Just an honest warning to my readers:
When I set out to write this blog, I really wanted to make it much more than just a day-to-day rundown of the events, trials and tribulations of us lady pirates on the high seas. I’ve enjoyed writing about my past and my present challenges when my experiences trigger such reflection.
This entry is a little different. Those of you who are only here to follow the trip: thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!! But, if you would rather avoid reading some personal discoveries about politics, religion, and society—just skip this one! No offense taken.
We are finally on our way again [!!!!!!Thank you, Jim, the super mechanic!!!!!!], and when I don’t have three weeks in Virginia to sit and think so much about the world, you will be returned to your regularly scheduled hijinx.
Maybe this is just a self-indulgent writing exercise. Or maybe you’ll enjoy reading it. Don’t be mad, Mom & Dad. I still love you.
[Skip to Part II if you don’t GAF about anything besides those things pertaining to our trip. Don’t worry, only the NSA is tracking you I don’t have any idea what you read and what you don’t. <3]
The [Seemingly] Infinite Struggle of the Aging Millenial;
or, HOLY SHIT ALL OF MY FRIENDS ARE HAVING BABIES
Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I am eternally grateful to my parents.
As the older generations rail against us ‘Millenials,’ and swear that we’re ruining this country because of our laziness, lack of ambition and lack of moral obligation to contribute to society, it seems more and more that our generation, ideologically, are drifting farther and farther away from our parents.
Now, whether or not this makes for some unpleasant, sometimes incredibly heated debates at the dinner table, it’s actually a testament to our upbringing. After all, we were all lucky enough to grow up with parents and teachers who told us, from a very early age, that we should think independently. That we could accomplish anything. That we deserved happiness. That we should follow our dreams. And rainbows and ponies and shit.
Joke’s on you, guys.
I’ve been married now for 6.5 years [yes, we got married very young, no I wasn’t pregnant, and no it wasn’t an arranged marriage], and I hate to admit it, but my husband and I have had to rely on our parents for a lot of support. As 30 careens towards me like a tug and barge on the ICW, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what this semi-dependency means.
Are we failures? Have we failed our parents, our society, our generation, ourselves?
I mean, this is certainly not where I thought I would be at 28.
Ten years ago, 30. Was. Old.
30 meant you had your SHIT together. You owned a house, two cars, had a fulfilling career, maybe some little brats running around, but definitely a healthy 401k, emergency savings, lots of vacations under your belt and savings for the next one. After all, you were given the opportunity to get a solid education, and you were encouraged every step of the way.
When my mom was my age, I was almost 7 years old and my brother was 4. I grew up wanting to be a young parent too, because I could “get it out of the way,” my kids would grow up, and I could move on with my life. I have to say, my parents, at just slightly over 50, have it pretty good… My mom is retired, they’re starting a brand new adventure, and both their kids are married and [mostly] employed and are no longer their responsibility…oh wait.
When we moved to NYC two-and-a-half years ago, although my husband’s new job was more than sufficient for us to afford our apartment, getting it was like pulling teeth from an angry hippo. My parents offered to be a guarantor on the lease, and even that wasn’t enough for our management company.
We were in a bind; I had three days to find us an apartment on my own so my husband could start his job on time. The unit I found was the only one within our price range which was in a safe enough neighborhood, and met even some of the items on our wish list, though that column was definitely outweighed by our concessions. [I am not talking about a super bougie penthouse on the Upper West Side, guys]. Eventually, we had to be a little sneaky, and put the lease under my dad’s name, and pretend he lived there. I mean, come on.
I am at least comforted to know that I am not alone. Lots of my friends and acquaintances also have to rely on their parents’ goodwill occasionally, whether it is for medical bills, classes, rent, or even groceries.
In fact, off the top of my head, the number of friends my age living in the city who needed to have a guarantor on their lease FAR outweighs those that didn’t.
If a disparity exists between my and other Millenials’ experience with this, I recognize that, amidst a series of other contributing factors, I chose a career in the arts, and I do surround myself with like-minded individuals. But, for what it’s worth, it does make it seem like those of us who chose to pursue a less lucrative career path solely because we felt it was our best contribution to society are being punished for following our parents’ advice.
We’re not not contributing; we’re just not contributing in the way that is believed to be the most beneficial to the construct of today’s society.
Listen, it is no secret that the arts are incessantly and increasingly devalued. If it weren’t for Hamilton, I bet you a large portion of today’s children [and young-adults and full-grown adults] may not even know live theater existed—and thank god that there are artists like Lin Manuel-Miranda who have the talent, opportunity, and passion to create such a game-changer.
I could argue until I’m blue in the face that the NEA deserves to be funded more and that the arts need to be taught in the classroom. But the fact is, the generation that is running this show doesn’t necessarily see it that way. And, the majority of Millenials who do care enough to try to convince those in power don’t have enough clout to make our voices heard, because we’re essentially a decade behind our parents in terms of societal development. [It’s pretty hard to inflict social change when the world still sees you in a diaper.]
So. There are more artists because our parents told us we deserved happiness, that we could do anything, and that we should follow our dreams. And, outside of encouragement and the occasional golf clap for our ‘bravery,’ what little public assistance exists to help the arts succeed is stretched so thin that it barely allocates enough to keep established NEA-assisted institutions afloat, never mind fostering growth and allowing for more job creation. But, you, know, the NEA budget should probably be cut.
More artists and less jobs. Less jobs and more ‘artists-as-formerly-known’ entering the workforce at a low-level in places like restaurants: over-educated, under-employed, under-appreciated, unfulfilled, cynical. Which, in turn, leaves fewer jobs for those whose “lesser” qualifications [at least educationally], arguably, are a better fit for the industry.
Push everything down the chain, and suddenly those at the bottom aren’t under-employed, they’re unemployed, making sure that the lower class stays put, firmly under the heel of the Gucci loafer worn by the man at the top. What a tangled web we weave.
And of course this is not just an arts industry issue. This is just one example of what one faction of our generation is struggling with. There are millions of Millenials who chose much more “realistic” career paths who are coping with the same thing us gypsies are. Over-educated, under-employed, a clown-fish swimming in a sea of college graduates, whose degrees are worth what a high school degree was worth when our parents were entering the workforce—oh except that, in fact, to us, they are worth, on average, $33,000 in student loan debt.
So, is it really that Millenials are failing society? Or is society failing us? OR maybe none of us have really had the chance to fail yet cause jeez I’m not even thirty yet and everyone should just relax for a bit and see how things play out.
I’m not stupid; I could have been a lawyer. I’d just rather play one on TV. I didn’t choose this industry because I wasn’t smart enough to do something “realistic.” Believe me, if another career could have made me happy, I would be doing that. A mentor of mine, who has been very successful in this business, always says, “If you can see yourself being happy doing anything else, do it.”
And I did it. I tried that. I was raking in the dough as a commercial loan officer. I had power, I was respected, and, as far as our elders are concerned, I was on my way to being a productive and successful member of society, who was content participating in community theatre for fun after a hard day of work. We had the house and the things and the life and the vacations and the 401ks…but it’s true what they say. Money can’t buy happiness [unless of course we’re talking lottery money, in which case, of course it does don’t be ridiculous].
And my parents taught me that I deserve happiness. So, realizing I wouldn’t be happy unless I pursued the arts, I crawled out from under my rock of depression, set the house on fire and roasted marshmallows on top.
Instead, I opted for the romantic life of the gypsy artist. Ah, yes, isn’t it wonderful and beautiful and exciting? Us gypsies—we graduate from arts school as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, 21-year-old man and lady-children, with all of the knowledge and energy in the world. We pursue our careers with our big dreams and our big smiles and our shiny degrees and our brand new patent leather tap shoes and our brand new leather character heels [all bought by our parents], and we walk into arguably the most difficult field in today’s society, only to be chewed up and spit back out time and time again, while the world shakes a finger at us for our lack of ambition and our entitlement.
And you know what? We are entitled. Our parents told us so. They told us we were entitled to happiness and we should follow our dreams and we could be anything we want to be! [They probably just didn’t realize all the help we’d need to get there.]
By the way, that was awesome of them. My mom told me a story about how she was a great swimmer as a kid, and she really wanted to join the high school swim team, but my grandfather told her she couldn’t because it was “too masculine.” But still, she loved her dad, had nothing but the utmost respect for him and certainly doesn’t harbor any resentment about not being able to join a silly recreational team.
This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for our parents’ generation, and, if this sentiment also applied to what they believed was their lives’ calling, it could very well have been detrimental to all of their pursuits of ‘true’ happiness. Instead of doing what they were passionate about, many opted for the “realistic,” bread-winning, sometimes back-breaking J.O.B. that fulfilled their responsibility to society, a social structure which largely ignored the fact that some of us have a responsibility to contribute in other ways, whether or not some find value in it.
Don’t get me wrong, all of my grandparents were, in fact, incredibly supportive of my mom and dad’s many business ventures, and, of course always wanted first and foremost, their children’s happiness. But that happiness, as defined by our parents’ parents, is different than that which ours afforded us.
For a second, can you imagine what society would be like if our parents’ parents encouraged them to follow their dreams as much as they did for us? How many more professional musicians and writers would there be? Or how many more explorers and inventors and archeologists? Astronauts?
Maybe society’s focus would shifting away from seeing the dollar as the endgame, and more on using the dollar as a tool for societal development and community success. Maybe those in office would have different agendas, different priorities, would be less driven by who is paying them under the table and more driven by what they think and believe, because they were encouraged to think independently and act with passion.
What I do know is that our parents are paying a price for their encouragement, much later into our lives than they probably originally anticipated, and for that sacrifice, I am eternally grateful.
My Parents’ Greatest Disappointment;
or, More About My Past You May or May Not Care About
When I started this entry, my original goal was to share an important experience that I had here in Chesapeake, but my long-windedness kinda swept it away from me. Sorry about that.
But I realized I had more to say. And, of course, that is really what I set out to do with this blog. Not just to regale you with tales of the high [and low] seas, and make you jealous of my tan, but to find my voice, and define my self. Guess what, guys? Three weeks in Chesapeake, VA affords a lot of time for self-reflection.
That being said, the preceding tangent came organically and provided necessary insight and meaning to this experience for me; hopefully, it will do the same for you.
When you spend three weeks at a marina having repairs done, you start to get to know the people around you. Whether it’s hosting an impromptu happy hour to get to know other transient boaters who may also be waiting for repairs, or saying “good morning” to all of the [really effing hard] workers in the boat yard, these interactions definitely make it feel a bit more like a home rather than a prison.
Captain A’s father and stepmother spent about 15 years after their retirement cruising up and down the ICW, and Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake was a regular stop for them. Through their time there, A’s stepmom, C, became acquainted with some of the guys in the boatyard, and they invited her to Sunday service at their black Baptist church. After that, they would actually drive every Sunday they were at AYB and pick her up to bring her to their service. She is beloved at the church and remembered very fondly by the entire congregation, and so she had called friends from the congregation to let us know that we were there so we could say hello.
One of the first people we met while they were hauling the boat out of the water, I’ll call him Reggie, found us nearly immediately and wanted to talk to us about “Sister C,” as they all called her. He invited us to attend Sunday service that weekend, since we were held up waiting for repairs. An agnostic, lapsed-Catholic, out of respect for his invitation and the curiosity I had for the entire experience, I planned to attend Sunday morning with A [my mom dutifully attended mass at a nearby Catholic church].
[This is like a choose-your-own-adventure. Skip to Part 3 if you don’t GAF about my life and just want to hear the story I just teased you with. <3]
As I said before, my parents gave me all of the tools I needed to think independently, but, like most parents do, they did this while also presenting me with information that would help me align myself to their beliefs. And while I’ve since separated from many of those, I have adoration and respect for their resolve and commitment.
I was privileged enough to be sent to Catholic school for all of my education. Catechism and church were a big part of our lives growing up. We went to church every Sunday [even on vacation, JEEZ] and we were expected to participate and be respectful.
My freshman and sophomore year of high school, I found myself a community within our youth group, and sang with the band that played at the upbeat, youth-centered mass. My high school was outside of my hometown, and so the church provided me with lots of opportunities to interact with kids from my town. [Ironically, though we didn’t start dating until our senior year, this is where I reconnected with my now-husband, 8 years after he was expelled from our Catholic kindergarten and banished to public school after mooning the gym teacher.]
I even went voluntarily to a conference for young Catholics that included prayer and nightly Christian band concerts and workshops. And, I loved it. I believed in it. I still remember being at one of the nightly worship concerts and praying for a sign from God that he was there and he was listening. I thought, “If only there could be thunder.” And it thundered. Clear night. One clap of thunder. Right after I prayed for it. The summer after my freshman year, it was a defining moment for me. Though I’ve tried, I still can’t explain this today.
After two years, the Diocese decided that the youth mass was no longer appropriate, and our church had to do away with the band and the fun, and the draw for youth participation unsurprisingly disappeared, but for a few. The group had provided us with wholesome social interactions within the context of religion and worship and a safe place for us to go to express ourselves, whether or not we would end up as devout leaders of the Catholic Church.
I believe the thought was that the group was too focused on social activities, and, unfortunately for them, they failed to realize socialization is perhaps the most effective way to squeeze enthusiasm out of moody pubescents. I don’t know how else you could get a roomful developing teenagers to voluntarily go on a Sunday night to an event which started and ended with singing the Hail Mary. Apparently, the program was a concession that the Diocese was content with, although, to be blunt, I think it was pretty stupid.
After the program stopped, and I became more involved with other things, my passion for Catholicism waned, though I continued to sing at mass weekly, and my high school curriculum made it so I wasn’t able to easily forget the catechism of the Church.
I remained a cautious believer.
When I entered the collegiate world, though I attended a Catholic university, the rapid influx of information made my world spin and made me seriously think about how I felt about the Church and about religion in general. As much as my parents gave me access to all of the information in the world, and permission and the opportunity to learn it, I hadn’t yet been interested in seeking out my truth. I found myself unprepared to defend myself when someone would use an argument that I realized made more sense to me.
Fast forward. I eventually found myself far too far away from the Catholic Church’s social teachings, and since then, have found myself content believing that every part of the world runs on the same energy [I know, Mom, I’m sorry you think that makes me earthycrunchygranola-y], and that the energy you put into the world is what comes back. I also tend to think that religion is mainly semantics, and that ideologically, we are all here to follow the same rules of humanity, no matter which prophet preached it.
I am grateful to my parents, and in my opinion, think that my education in school and at home greatly crafted the moral compass that guides my decision making day-to-day. But, with no intended disrespect, I do find myself far away from my parents’ beliefs today, and I struggle with the fact that that hurts them.
Once again, though, this is a situation that I have found many Millenials struggling with. Born into the information age, we constantly have to comb through new facts and opinions, and to “believe like a child,” as the Bible instructs us to do, is increasingly
difficult, especially in a society that is also so centered on education and logic, in which it can become challenging for religion and logic to coexist.
I do have to admit, though, that I am envious of those that can honestly and openly “believe like a child,” since the uncertainty about whether or not there is a meaning to life invokes a thought process that can send anyone with a mental health disorder spiraling into a depressive episode.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?;
or, The Culmination of Every Thought I’ve Ever Had
[You guys still with me? I don’t blame you if you skipped ahead. This has been quite the ride, for me too.]
Back to Chesapeake.
At Reggie’s and the church’s invitation, A and I set off on Sunday morning for the 8am service. Apparently the 11am is the more popular of the two, but…. We were going to the beach… sooooo…
We knew that Reggie played bass in the church band [and spoiler alert he’s fierce], and so we didn’t expect to see him until after the service. And, although C knew many of those in the congregation, we didn’t know a soul and had no idea what to expect.
We arrived at 7:55 to find that there were no more than four cars in the parking lot. We sat in the car, already as anxious as I’ve been for an important audition, waiting for more cars to arrive. At this point, I got A to agree that we would absolutely NOT be going in to this church if there were only four cars.
Maybe it sounds ridiculous to have been nervous. But, guys, here’s the thing. I’ve had the privilege to never be uncomfortable in a room where I’m the minority. I wasn’t sure that we would be accepted, or if we would be looked at as if we were the enemy, voyeuristic in the worst of ways.
My concern, walking in blind, was that inside that church we would encounter the deeply carved side effects of years of systemic racism, head-on. I had no basis to expect this except for my own personal culpability for being born white. [And, despite what some media will tell you, that’s OK. In fact, a little bit of guilt is an honest, human response to a problem that some continue to argue no longer exists.]
At 7:59, as the parking lot started to fill, I put on my big girl panties and we went inside, determining that being late would definitely be worse than not going at all.
The doorman looked at us a little confusedly as we walked in to their beautiful new facility, but as we entered the auditorium, we were immediately greeted by C’s friends, clearly active members of the congregation, with radiant smiles that made my armor crack just a bit.
But, everything inside of my Catholic-educated brain anxiously looked at the clock as we made our introductions, as a Catholic mass virtually NEVER starts late.
At around 8:05 or so, the band came in and a couple of deacons led the church in, what we eventually figured out was, informal worship. [Naively, I thought this was the real service.] As they were singing and leading, people we coming in, greeting other members of the congregation, speaking at not a disrespectful, but a normal volume.
Our new friends made a few more introductions, as everyone wanted to meet C’s stepdaughter. They happily greeted us and made small talk in the back of the church. And I. Was. NERVOUS. OMG YOU DON’T HAVE PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS IN CHURCH WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU’RE GOING TO GET US ALL IN TROUBLE GOD IS WATCHING.
We quietly, politely and uneasily returned to our seats, and we were told that the reverend wanted to meet us and would be coming over shortly.
The two deacons who were leading the pre-service worship—can I just say—were having the TIME OF THEIR LIVES. Such joy emanated from them up at their pulpit, they danced and sung and didn’t care what key the song was in and, as parishioners trickled in [in their Sunday BEST—now I actually know what that means OMG those ladies were FIERCE] they greeted their neighbors and participated in the worship, audibly responding and giving it ALL.
The reverend, as promised, asked us to come out in the hall for a minute and chatted with us happily about our travels, about “C,” and welcomed us wholeheartedly. He told us that they would be introducing us [GULP] and that we were encouraged to participate.
We all returned to our seats and the service started [ohhhhhhh, now it’s starting] at about 845. A woman came to the pulpit and said that we should stand up if it was our first time in the church, and introduce ourselves. Crickets. We couldn’t avoid it, everyone obviously KNEW WE WERE THE WHITE PEOPLE. Sweaty palms. Heart racing. WHY WAS I SO NERVOUS THESE ARE JUST PEOPLE.
Everyone in the church looked around, surveyed us [and a few others], as we introduced ourselves [I stuttered a maximum of 6 times so it was a good day], everyone applauded and—it was genuine. It wasn’t like, “oh Reverend is watching us so we better pretend to be nice.” No. They were legitimately happy for us to be there.
I egotistically thought my skin’s phosphorescence was betraying me. When in fact, the only judgment in earshot was that which I had passed before I entered that church, when I feared the congregation wouldn’t accept us. In reality, they were just happy to have another soul in that service, contributing to their worship.
Now, as I’ve said, I don’t follow a specific religion at all. But, I also didn’t feel compelled or pressured to fake it. I participated when I thought it was expected, I grooved to their amazing music, and I just listened and observed. And the energy and the love and the positivity were just electrifying.
I am once again, like I was in the moment, brought to tears as I write this and remember the service and how I felt when we left the building, escorted out by several members of the congregation, hugging goodbye and asking to take a picture to send back to C.
As you may be able to tell by the fact that it has taken me so long to write this entry, I really struggled with how to share this experience. As the time went on, it became more and more difficult. I shared my experience and my desire to tell the story with several of my friends of color because—I didn’t want to get it wrong! I didn’t want my naïve little white woman lady brain to undermine the importance of the experience.
I am a racist.
I wish I could say I wasn’t. I don’t try to be. I don’t want to be. I have lasting, important relationships in my life with people of color. I’m not ignorant, I’m not a bigot, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been programmed to have instinctual reactions that are racist in nature. It doesn’t mean that at night, alone on a street in NYC, I don’t get the slightest bit nervous when a group of black men are walking towards me.
I was born into a world where systemic racism is still rampant. The only difference is that now we’re supposed to pretend it’s all better and act as if we have no more work to do, while the very people whose backs this nation was built upon are still trying to claw and scratch their way up the narrow ladder of a system that was built against them.
Segregation is no longer legal, but discrimination still exists. Black men & women have the same rights and opportunities as white men & women, and we have a black president, but inner-city school children still struggle, have a much lower graduation rate, and are more likely to be involved in illegal behavior and face incarceration because they are still unable to rise above their class.
We didn’t do our job well enough. We didn’t help. We passed a couple laws and then told them they should feel better. We didn’t solve the problem. The problem is not “fixed.”
The black community is crying out for our help and, though we will travel across continents to help underdeveloped countries, we refuse to lend a hand to those here at home that need us most.
Our parents were born in the same decade that, 100 years after the emancipation, finally saw the end to discrimination. There are still millions of black Americans who lived through it. Who lived in fear. Who lived through segregated bathrooms, and schools, and WATER FOUNTAINS WTF. Our grandparents still said “colored” at the dinner table, without even meaning to be politically incorrect.
To believe that it is “all better” is to ignore facts and turn a blind eye to those in need, so that our consciences can be clear and we can sleep at night.
I hope to live to see a world where prejudice and racism is no longer systematic, and we can all co-exist and embrace each other’s differences. I hope my kids aren’t burdened with the same racism that I am burdened with. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we click our red sparkly heels, the world doesn’t change over night.
We went to this service two weeks before two more black men were murdered by police, three weeks before a black man murdered several policemen in retaliation, and watched as several peaceful and some not-so, protests broke out across this nation.
Every night before I go to sleep, all I can think about is that service.
Every time I read another news story and I put the proverbial flag in my head at half-mast, all I can think about is that service.
I wish everyone would reach out and just try to understand each other a little better. Listen. Engage. Those of us that can recognize racism in ourselves have an obligation to try harder. To educate. To be an ally. To take a chance and walk into an all-black church, just to come an ounce closer to understanding a community we know nothing about, but claim to.
During a particularly hilarious manic episode a couple of months ago, I sat up in bed until about 3am ferociously scribbling in a notebook about how I was going to change the world and end racism. My handwriting was mostly illegible, and I found myself embarrassed reading through my notes the next morning.
My idea involved the #tokenblackfriend and #tokenwhitefriend [I know, it is completely mortifying], purposefully politically incorrect to start the conversation about how we need to make an actual effort to reach out and understand each other at the most basic of levels: as friends. It meant people of every race purposefully reaching out, awkwardly and uncomfortably, and integrating into each other’s lives.
A Millenial solution for our parents’ and grandparents’ problem.
It could never work, I recognize that. The thought itself is probably so ridiculously offensive to some people that as I’m writing this I’m considering deleting it. [But, hey, my manic little brain was sure trying hard.]
We all bleed red. [I’m pretty tan right now, guys, and I keep falling on this damn boat and the color of my blood hasn’t changed at all I’ve checked.]
We all pray or hope or—IDK whatever it is you personally do—for happiness and strength and health and prosperity for ourselves and our loved ones and we all sleep and dream and wake and laugh and cry and yell and learn and work and grow old and love. And love. And love. And love.
That’s all that was in that room, guys. Love. No race, no resentment, no fear, no hate, no color. Love. That, to me, is god.
I will now return you to your regularly scheduled hijinx.